An Introduction to Three-in-one School Counseling Theory

An Introduction to Three-in-one School Counseling Theory

Luan Zhi, University of Central Arkansas


Based on the traditional Chinese belief in the goodness of human nature, three-in-one school counseling theory (TSCT) assumes about people in three dimensions from the perspectives of Rogerian, Freudian, and Adlerian theories: people are innately good; people can be disturbed and alienated; but people can resume their natural health through personal and social efforts. To effectively help clients, TSCT therapy aspires to promote three interrelated relationships during the counseling sessions. They are Physician-Patient, Educator-Student, and Friend-Friend. Three therapeutic techniques are accordingly utilized, which are Interpretation, Encouragement, and Systematic Desensitization. Close therapeutic relationship, holism, and multiculturalism are the three presumed strengths of this theory.

Human nature/assumptions about people

Three-in-one School Counseling Theory, or TSCT, is based on the Chinese understanding of human nature which is consistently approved by the three integrated teachings of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Despite their different philosophical emphases, these three teachings all hold that people are ultimately and potentially good; but people need to work on themselves for wisdom development and return to their fundamental face (Zhong, 2007). This notion on human nature is epitomized in the Confucian three-character classic that Chinese children were required to recite and chant for early education in old China. The first six lines of the classic read, “People at birth, are naturally good. Their natures are similar, their habits become different. If, negligently, not taught, their nature deteriorate” (Threecharacter classic, trans. n.d. ).

In this light, TSCT holds the assumptions about people in three dimensions based on the themes of three major counseling theories.

Rogerian person-centered therapy

TSCT agrees with Rogerian theory in its basic premise that human beings are inherently good. Carl Rogers (1961)believed that people are exquisitely rational and essentially positive. In his view, a person as an organism is capable of awareness, and has the tendency of self-actualization towards one’s wholeness and integration. Here, TSCT looks at this self-actualizing tendency as the person’s potential to return to his /her essential nature — the ultimate good.

Freudian psychoanalytic approach

TSCT is sympathetic with Freudian theory that human beings are not necessarily good. By Freud’s drive psychology, human behaviors are basically driven by two genetically built-in drives: sexuality and aggression (Gelso & Fretz, 2001). Freud identified id, ego, and superego as the three entities that constitute human psyche, among which the id is viewed as the most primitive and powerful because the drives and instincts are seen as fundamentally residing in it (Gelso & Fretz, 2001). However, unlike Buddhism, Freud was not able to explain how the id genetically gets formed and determines human behaviors as instincts. Referring to the Buddhist notion of “delusion” (people’s deep wrong understanding of the universe and human life), TSCT perceives the drives or instincts as human “habits”, which alienate people from their self-nature.

Adlerian personality theory

TSCT buys in Alfred Adler’s philosophy that human life is intricately tied to two basic motivations: the striving for self-improvement and fulfillment, and the profound cooperation for common welfare (Stein & Edwards, 1998). TSCT opines the most meaningful idea of Adlerian theory is its stress on social or environmental influence, which believes that social change is important for the improvement of human psychological conditions.

In actual school counseling practice, these three dimensions are organically integrated and function together in guiding the therapist-client relationship and therapeutic techniques.

Therapist-client relationship

Three-in-one school counseling theory sets therapist-client relationship in three aspects: physician-patient, educator-student, and friend-friend.

Physician-patient relationship

Physician-patient relationship understandably sounds unequal and even somewhat oppressive. But it is based on one consideration that, although therapists want to make clients feel comfortable by nicely treating them as normal people, the issue is some of the them may be very “sick,” and a real responsible, or responsive therapist should not take the symptoms lightly, or even ignore them. Serious psychological disorders can lead to many physical problems, such as bad headache and cold, high blood pressure, heart arracks and other chronic diseases. With clients of this kind, a therapist must be able to clearly “diagnose” the symptoms and inform the client of the actual situation. Are the symptoms common depression? Are they of any anxiety disorders — panic, obsessive-compulsive, or post-traumatic stress, for example? By being truthful and firmly professional, can the therapist win the client’s trust and have his or her collaboration for effective treatment. Clients may not really care about the therapist’s excessive kindness or overly “democratic” style, but want to hear the truth about their “sickness”. TSCT names this style of therapeutic relationship as “Freudian style.”

Educator-student Relationship

TSTC believes that most of the physical diseases originate from psychological problems, and all the psychological problems are literally rooted in one’s unauthentic view of life. In this sense, a TSCT therapist should be able to play an educator’s role in two folds. First, a TSCT therapist is a philosopher, who holds an optimistic outlook on human nature. He/she believes in the fundamental goodness of humanity, the actualizing meaning of life and the vast positive potentials of individuals. He/she has an acute and a profound insight on cultural and societal complication, and is skilful at analyzing the interactive relationship between an individual and his outside world. Second, a TSCT therapist is an encourager. He/she encourages and helps his/her clients to develop social interests and make contributions to society as they go about solving the tasks of life. He/she is never hesitant about making the point to his/her clients that diminishing one’s selfishness and meeting one’s social responsibility are the most effective ways of maintaining or resuming one’s psychological health. TSCT sees this type of relationship as Adlerian-existential style.

Friend-friend Relationship

Being physician-like and educator-like is important for a TSCT therapist. However, as far as an overall therapeutic atmosphere is concerned, there might be some negative side of these two –the clients can get overwhelmed. TSCT therefore highlights the relaxing necessity for a successful treatment as well. A friend-friend relationship is thus promoted.

To create and maintain a relaxing and positive therapeutic atmosphere, a TSCT therapist needs to be consciously warm and human for a friend-friend relationship. Care, genuineness, and trust are the three key elements for this type of relationship.

Care: Clients easily feel that the TSCT therapist cares about them. This care is naturally manifested, and is without much of the professional and commercial intent.

Genuineness: Empathy is the best word for this quality. A TSCT therapist is able to make the clients feel that he/she is one of them. His/her personal experience tends to be naturally involved during the therapeutic moment.

Trust: With a TSCT therapist, the clients feel they are trusted. They are encouraged because they see their potentials and opportunities for future. They are aware that they can live a constructive life through their own efforts.

Ideally, for a specific counseling moment, depending on the scale of the client’s symptoms and personality type, these three styles of relationship could be either equally presented, or particularly emphasized.

Therapeutic Techniques

Three therapeutic techniques are involved in TSCT counseling sessions. They are Interpretation, Encouragement, and Systematic Desensitization. These techniques are borrowed from Psychoanalysis, Individual Psychology, and Behavior Therapy, but with distinctive TSCT characteristics.


The TSCT therapist understands that any psychological disorder is rooted in different levels of psychic state (the Freudian id, ego, and superego) and the interrelationship between these levels. Therefore, interpretation of the symptoms is a key intervention in the TSCT counselor’s arsenal. The TSCT counselor collects all the relevant information, including dreams, to form hypotheses about the client’s world view, lifestyle, inner conflicts, and associated goals. With TSCT therapy, interpretation is intended to create awareness of (1)lifestyle, (2) current psychological movement and its direction, (3) goals, purposes, and intention, and (4) private logic and how it works.


Equally as important as interpretation is encouragement because it helps the client find his own strengths and recognize his power to affect the world through choice. Encouragement is not at all the same as compliment. Ideally, it happens before the client attempts a desired change or action. With TSCT counseling, a very important element of encouragement is to encourage the client to develop social interests and try to be engaged in community services.

Systematic Desensitization

The uniqueness of TSCT therapy in this regard is its introduction of some sitting and meditating skills from Buddhism for the desensitizing process. The client is to be taught to sit with cross legs and breathe with clear rhythm. This has been recognized as an effective way for the client to calm down, concentrate, and become aware of his/her inner existence. Three steps are basically involved: muscle relaxation, mind tranquilization, and positive imagination. For the part of positive imagination, the client is guided to use bright and positive images to overtake his entire mind. Those images are supposed to grow so clear and powerful that they can end up successfully overcoming the negative feelings and diminishing the darkness of one’s heart.

Strengths of three-in-one school counseling theory

There are three noticeable strengths with TSCT therapy.

Close therapeutic relationship

For any treatment, collaboration between therapists and clients is essential. With TSCT counseling, close collaboration is possible because the client tends to admire the counselor as a well-trained professional, a well-learned educator, and a dependable friend.


With TSCT therapy, the client’s entire problems are looked at and attended. This includes his/her fundamental view on the world and life, his/her inner conflicts that generate the disorders, and his/her actual lifestyle and behaviors. TSCT aspires to provide an overall and in-depth solution to problems.


As some particular Oriental philosophy and techniques are introduced into the practice of TSCT therapy, TSCT is not a theory which is solely grounded in Western culture. With a lot of cross-cultural flavor, TSCT has the advantage of attending clients of different cultural backgrounds. This is specifically significant in view of the ever increasing diversity on American campuses.


Three-in-one school counseling theory has faith in the goodness of human nature and the potentials of people to become authentically good. However, TSCT is well aware that the fundamental human goodness is overshadowed or disturbed by many of the “habits” that create a variety of psychological and physical disorders. Based on Rogerian, Freudian, and Adlerian theories, and by bringing in some Chinese cultural thoughts and methods, TSCT therapy aspires to help clients clear up their inner shadows and alter the habits so that they can resume their natural health and live a happy and fulfilled life.


Gelso, C. & Fretz, B. (2001). Counseling Psychology. Harcourt College Publishers

Rogers, C.R. (1961). On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Stein, T.H. & Edwards, E. M. (1998). Classical Adlerian theory and practice. Retrieved from

Threecharacter classic (n.d.). trans. Retrieved from

Zhong, M. S. (2007). Returning to one’s self-nature: study notes on The Discourse on the Ten Wholeness Ways of Action. Hong Kong Buddhist Education Association. Retrieved from




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